2016: Rusty Nall

Utah State University

After learning about the simplicity and universal applicability of behavior analysis at Jacksonville State University (JSU), Rusty Nall knew he wanted to pursue the experimental analysis of behavior. His research career began at JSU under the direction of Drs. William Palya and Todd McKerchar, examining the influence of serial stimuli on behavior under fixed-time schedules. He also had the honor of teaching an introductory behavior analysis lab before leaving JSU to pursue his Ph.D. at Utah State University (USU). 


Under the advisement of Dr. Timothy Shahan, Rusty’s work at USU is focused primarily on animal and quantitative models of relapse. More specifically, he studies the fundamental components of relapse, often using animal models of drug and alcohol self-administration. He examines variables commonly thought to influence human relapse episodes, such as aversive outcomes associated with problem behavior and competing sources of reinforcement, at the basic level. This reverse-translational approach could lead to improved animal models of relapse and a better understanding of the necessary and sufficient components that influence it. In turn, this approach could have implications for the treatment of problem behavior.


Treatment programs that encourage engagement with multiple sources of alternative reinforcement have been relatively successful at reducing relapse of problem behavior. There are two potential explanations for this success. Relatively high rates of alternative reinforcement made available by the multiple sources may reduce relapse. However, engaging in multiple reinforcing behaviors may reduce relapse regardless of reinforcer rate. With help from the SABA grant, Rusty intends to disentangle these ideas, and determine how each affects relapse following treatment.


After completing his Ph.D., Rusty intends to pursue a university research career. He hopes to continue work with animal and quantitative models of persistence and relapse. In addition, he is interested in models of addiction, choice, and foraging. Rusty also looks forward to sharing his passion for the experimental analysis of behavior with future students as an advisor and professor.


Rusty would like to thank his mentors, advisors, and colleagues for their guidance, as well as SABA and its contributors for providing grant opportunities for students.


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